By Ben Byrnes
Hop growers, farm brewers and some major players in the regional craft beer industry converged at Black Hops Farm in Lucketts, Thursday and Friday, for the first Beyond Brewing Forum, presented by Organarchy Hops.
The two-day forum covered the past, present and future of the craft beer industry both regionally and nationally. In all, 152 participants, from states across the Mid-Atlantic, including panel speakers and event staff participated in the event.
It was only appropriate also that the first day of the forum coincided with National Beer Day.
The course of the modern day craft movement was laid out throughout the presentations beginning with the keynote speaker, Ralph Olson. The now-retired CEO of HopUnion, a Yakima, WA-based company that specialized in providing hops to the burgeoning craft brew industry since 1978, spoke of his experiences in the industry in the Northwest.
Describing the volatility of the market, Olson said, “When I started in 1978, there were about 225 growers in the Northwest, mainly in the Yakima Valley. When I retired, there were maybe 60. In 33 years, quite a few changes.”
The participants were divided into a separate track for growers, and a separate track for brewers. Tom Barse, owner of Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm, based in Mount Airy, MD, offered tips for farm brewers from his own experience.
Barse, who started his brewery for about $250,000, has run in the black since opening, and warned brewers interested in opening their own to be conservative with their finances. He said it can be a for-profit business, as long as owners are smart about not overspending.
“It’s really easy to spend too much money,” he said. “I heard of a brewery in Pennsylvania that spent $1.9 million to open. They had a little 10-barrel system and they had a restaurant. They lasted three months.”
Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore spoke to the participants Thursday and highlighted elements his office is working on on behalf of farm brewers. Discussing the state’s approach to the craft beverages, including wine, Haymore said, “These great craft beverages all start on a farm. This is agriculture at its absolute finest. It’s value-added agriculture at its finest.”
Star chef Bryan Voltaggio, who was also present during the forum, along with his team, provided a barbecue lunch and spoke about the desire for chefs to bring good food pairings to the increasing number of quality brews being offered.
“I’m more excited about the opportunities I have as a chef and get to know more brewers and more people that are involved in that process in order to bring together food and beer more naturally,” he said. “Ultimately, when you make a beer pairing and a food pairing match, you create something really special and meaningful at the table, and it’s a really great, fun experience.”
Voltaggio has partnered with Vanish Brewery, the tasting room at Black Hops Farm, to serve barbecue three days a week.
The forum’s second day offered participants an opportunity to see how those in the region’s beer and wine industry are thriving. They were given tours of Vanish Brewery, Organarchy Hops in Oldtown, MD, Milkhouse Brewery, Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, MD, and Hopyard Farm in King George, VA, and ended the day with a guided tour by Doug Fabbioli at Fabbioli Cellars near Leesburg.
With the final tour on Friday, the hop growers and brewers walked away with heads brimming with every kind of hoppy knowledge they could use in their own ventures, and more excited to go home and try to perfect their own processes.
Edward Dick, who moved from Ireland to the U.S. in 1991, brews his own beer at his home in Leesburg. He said he walked away with a lot of information he’s eager to put to use. “I learned that I knew a hell of a lot less than I thought I did.”
Organarchy Hops is owned by Solomon Rose and Dylan Kryzwonski, who spearheaded the forum.
Ben Byrnes has worked in the food industry for 11 years. He lives in Leesburg with his wife and newborn son.